Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Earth & Reverie

I wanted to add the blog, Earth & Reverie  to my blogroll, but Blogger is not co-operating.

So I am posting it here. It is a new group blog that I started on the subject of Global Warming.

I am reposting my most recent post below. The numbers are what brings it all home, gives me pause.

Numbers Rising
I recently discovered Bill McKibbens article from July of 2012, “Global Warming's Terrifying New Math”. If I had noticed it before, I did not fully digest it. Some highlights from it include:
The First Number: 2° Celsius 
Some context: So far, we've raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) 
The Second Number: 565 Gigatons 
Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. ….Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we're already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.CO2 emissions last year (2011) rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before….In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we'll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years (2028). "When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees." [Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist] That's almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.…[The tar sands of Alberta] contain as much as 240 gigatons of carbon (or almost half of the available space if we take the 565 limit seriously)… The Orinoco deposits (in Venezuela are larger than Alberta's . 
The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons 
The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.  …John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today's market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion.The numbers are simply staggering – this [fossil fuel] industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they're planning to use it. …Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas. The five biggest oil companies have made more than $1 trillion in profits since the millennium…
Bill McKibben thinks one answer is to make the fossil fuel industry pay the cost of it’s ‘externalities’ - the cost of the pollution / CO2. “The higher the price on carbon, the more of those reserves would be worthless.”
I don’t know that that is the best way. The fossil fuel company and the heavy users could probably never repay the world for the cost of  the warmed planet (and costs of droughts, all the storms, etc.) and the cost of acidified ocean and loss of sea life (i.e. our food). And when the price of things get higher, the poor suffer the most, the wealthy would be fine for a long time.
The news came out about the same time as this McKibben article that the the Super-Rich have up to $32 Trillion in stored in ‘offshore’ tax havens (probably more now). So money - wise, there is little that could be done to prevent the very wealthy from using fossil fuels until they were gone. That is why rationing is the only practical solution.
I expect rationing would be difficult to enforce on the wealthy, who are used to getting whatever they want. But theoretically, it would give them an incentive to be more creative in how they use energy. If they were going to have large homes, for instance, they would need to incorporate smart designs and use renewable energy sources. (There could be limits on home size, too, for that matter). If they were going to travel, thought would have to be put into how to do so without using fossil fuels (sailing?). Efforts would have to be made to travel less. Perhaps the super-rich could buy other’s rations, but at least the other people would get some benefit and the overall use would be less.
The enforced slow-down of consumption, along with the re-planting of trees / forests, would be a good start. The other thing that should happen is a world-wide limit of one child per family (to make it per woman would be the practical way to do it). Part of the problem is clearly that too many people consuming too much energy is more than the planet can contain. We know that wars and famines have been predicted (and are happening). Some agriculture will be able to be shifted north - to Canada and Siberia, perhaps eventually to Greenland. But still, we know that more and more people want to live the ‘American’ dream life, no matter where on the earth they live. And since it is not reasonable to say that we can live it and other’s cannot, the only reasonable thing is to reduce the population equally, world wide. From looking at the charts, it looks like it should be reduced until the world population is at least down to one billion people. If people are going to ‘live the good life’, it may need to be less than that.
Unfortunately, if no rationing takes place, if deforestation continues, and population increases, nature will take care of things herself. But we should not consider her to be ‘cruel’ (as many people will surely die & extinctions are already happening at a rate of 3 species per hour), humanity has beaten nature down for quite some time. At some point, there is only so much nature can take before humans will no longer be able to continue life as we have come to think is usual.
Zach Klonoski wrote a good piece, "Wash hands of oil?" based on McKibbens book on the same subject as the above reference article, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.”

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